What's the useful TV shelf-life of a controversial civilian superstar on a first-name basis with the country? For bruised and nervous executives at Seven and Nine the signs are that Schapelle Corby, the once sure-fire ratings draw, just ain't what she used to be - the one-time viewers' sweetheart appears to have become a turn-off.
Schapelle Corby fee rumours 'silly'
Bizarre twist in the Schapelle Corby saga with star Channel Seven interviewer Mike Willesee appearing on the streets of Bali to deny the network has secured a paid interview.
After Nine's ratings disappointment with its Schapelle telemovie on Sunday night, a fresh round of Corby programming on Monday evening delivered even more embarrassing figures, with the all-day hype surrounding Corby's release not enough to excite viewers.
A Corby news special hosted by Peter Overton scored only 627,000 capital city viewers — barely enough to squeak past the ABC's Media Watch. Next up, Nine offered an “encore screening” of the telemovie, hoping to make amends for the production's poor showing on its Sunday night debut. Viewers weren't interested: a paltry 241,000 tuned in.
That's two bad days gone for Nine, but for Seven the headaches are still to come. Having stitched up the family in a deal for an exclusive interview, estimated to have cost north of $2 million, Seven executives will now be very nervous about the likely bang for those bucks — if Nine's bleak experience over the past two days is anything to go by.
And today, the man expected to hold the interview's reins, Sunday Night journalist Mike Willesee, told reporters in Bali that he is not even certain that an interview with Schapelle Corby will take place, saying only: "I really hope so". He said he still had not met or spoken with Corby, nor any members of her family.
As criticism mounts from within his own network over the paid interview, Willesee said he did not know the figure, but that those published — between $2 million and $3 million — were "crazy ... [and] way silly".
The atrocious ratings for Nine came at the end of a day in which Australian television — all of it, the ABC included — had pushed the button on a broadcast concept that proved immensely popular when first deployed nine years ago. Back then, going The Full Corby worked a treat, especially on the day of her conviction. The nation stopped and turned to the tube for wall-to-wall Schapelle.
On Monday, this tactic looked far more risky, and the results on screen were never enough to deliver the same emotional punch of that unforgettable day in May 2005. There was no suspense, for starters, and not much to see besides. Of Corby, we saw a tiny, masked figure being squeezed through a heaving media pack to a waiting van, and it was all over so fast the moment hardly seemed to justify the media dramatics involved in trying to record it.
What Schapelle was feeling had to be assumed. What the broadcasters were feeling was written all over their faces. We could see it in the weary eyes and glistening pink foreheads. It was hot and tiring work of uncertain duration or reward.
As happens with live news events, there were delays and there was padding. Like a royal baby, Schapelle Corby was not going to be delivered according to the schedules of network executives in Australia.
For a long while her appearance was ever "imminent" - which in Bali can mean anything from two minutes to sometime next Thursday.
The money shot, when it came, was a messy television moment, an unedifying spectacle for participants and viewers alike. We at home had to take the reporters' word for it when they said she'd been freed - on screen, all that could be detected was a crush of body parts thrashing around with the desperation of a thirsty crowd in a pub about to run out of beer. We were assured the shrouded noggin atop the tiny figure at the centre of the scrum was, indeed, Schapelle Leigh Corby, but for all we could actually see it might have been Camilla Parker Bowles.
Then came the chase; camera-wielding optimists on scooters pursuing the Corby convoy through the streets of Bali to the parole office, where we were told that somewhere inside release papers were being signed. By that point it could be assumed many viewers had decoded the reality of the day and realised that no matter which station they tuned to, all they would ever get was a promise.
The eternal promise of Schapelle, but when the moment finally came, she was nothing but a blur. In that respect, what we didn't see on Monday was emblematic of the past 10 years: you think this Corby business will become clear any minute now, but it never quite does.
The question now is, can enough viewers muster the interest for one more close look? Seven's Sunday Night and its star interrogator will be praying we do when their expensive exclusive is aired. To be on the safe side, Willesee — who once tried to prove the existence of God on a TV show — might be wise to ask for divine intervention again.
- with Michael Bachelard